Over the River and Through the Woods
The holiday season is upon us.
Over the next two weeks, families across the country will pack up their suitcases and go traveling. Some will visit friends, relatives, and loved ones. Others will take special holiday family trips together. Wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing, there’s one thing that just about everyone can agree on: traveling with kids can be challenging. If you’re planning to take a trip this holiday season—whether it’s by train, plane or automobile—there are some simple things you can do to make your life a whole lot easier.
Tips for Traveling with Kids
Here are some key things to do to make your trip run more smoothly. They’ll work for kids of any age, from toddlers to teens. Hint: the techniques you used with toddlers transfer directly to your teenagers. You tweak the presentation and delivery, but the ideas behind them are identical.
Holiday Family Travel Tips
Prepare Your Kids Ahead of Time
Knowledge is power. Get them excited about the trip. For teens, tell them all the interesting things about your destination. If you’re visiting family, remind them of all the things they love about their relatives. If they’re younger, get them excited about going on an adventure. Tell them the itinerary, how long you expect it to take and everything you expect to happen along the way. That way there will be no big surprises (as long as there aren’t any traffic jams or unforeseen flight delays) and your kids won’t have to handle any unexpected transitions.
This is the easiest and most important thing to plan ahead of time, but the hardest thing to handle if you get caught out. Every parent knows what a disaster it can be to get stuck somewhere with a hungry kid and no real food around. Think ahead. Bring snacks. If you can, bring real food. Finding a solid, healthy meal while traveling is getting easier – newer airports have healthier options – but most airport food is overpriced and unhealthy. The same is true for interstate rest stops: they’re making progress, but you’re more likely to find burgers and fries than a rice bowl and a fresh green salad.
Planning or bringing your own food is crucial if your children have any food sensitivities or allergies. Again, airlines and airports are getting better in this area, but there’s really no way of knowing exactly what’s inside the food you might be served on an airplane, in an airport restaurant, or at a roadside diner. This point about food can’t be stressed enough: a kid with a full belly can be a happy kid almost anywhere.
Bring more than you need. While your teen might be all set with their phone, younger kids can stay occupied with chapter books, coloring books, sticker books, decks of cards, dolls, action figures, matchbox cars – bring anything you can think of that will keep them occupied. Brainstorm with them and let them choose what they want to bring. This can be part of your family trip preparation. You can decide ahead of time what they’ll use and when. Even with your teen: novels and sketchbooks can win the day if their phones are out of charge and wifi is on the fritz. You don’t have to stick to your plan, but having one in place can soothe your nerves and theirs.
If iPads, portable DVD players, and e-Readers are part of your typical family routine, then bring them. Electronic media can be a true lifesaver when traveling for kids of any age. And if electronic media is not a regular part of your family life, you might want to consider making an exception for long travel days: watching a movie or playing an educational game can pass interminable hours in the car or airport terminals.
Share the Adventure
Interact with your kids as much as possible during the trip and do your best to find pockets of quality time. Engage your teen in deep conversations, focused on their interests and how they’re experiencing the trip. Read books, play cards, or do coloring activities with your younger kids. Traveling is a great time to forge one-of-a-kind memories with your children. If things take an unexpected turn, go with it. Who knows? The most memorable part of your holiday trip might just turn out to be playing jacks with your three-year-old while waiting for a delayed flight, or having a heart-to-heart with your fifteen-year-old while trying to find a decent snack or a bottle of water that doesn’t cost five dolllars.
Family trips can stick with kids forever, and sometimes it’s the unexpected moments that make the biggest impression on young minds. Visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and old friends might be the main goal of your holiday trip, but every time you venture away from home to go traveling, there are hidden lessons sprinkled along the wayside. This is never truer than when traveling with kids: it’s almost a sure thing that they’ll make it interesting and create new and unexpected ways to reinforce the old saying:
“Life is about the journey, not the destination.”
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.